For marketers, age is a straightforward way to gain insight into your audience. It’s a cornerstone of segmenting, or categorizing, customers into different groups. But some companies aren’t effective at targeting different audience age groups. When they make sweeping generalizations about age groups in their advertising, they get hit with a consumer backlash that can be damaging to their brand.
Context for generational marketing
You can have marketing strategies for different generations, but there are two significant caveats to keep in mind: Generational marketing should be done in alignment with other marketing aspects, and you need to avoid clichés and stereotypes about age groups.
The first step is to understand the role of generational marketing. Unfortunately, there’s often no easy way to define how age pertains to your industry and business. You need to take the time to learn more about your audience and shopper preferences. It’s critical to gather the right data to determine how age is relevant to your brand.
The other thing to remember is how easy it can be to generalize. For instance, millennials are often thought of as selfish, while seniors are portrayed as frail and unaware. It’s also a bad idea to engage in inauthentic attempts at fitting in. According to Generation Z marketer Gisella Tan in Medium, trying out social humor or using generational terms such as “lit” to describe a product to the youngest generation will fail unless the brand already has that type of identity.
Generational marketing has to be relevant and authentic to be effective. If both conditions aren’t met, marketing time and money are wasted and, in some cases, the brand could suffer.
Marketing to different generations
Here’s a quick look at major attributes for each generation based on industry research.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Boomers may not be the largest generation anymore, but they’re not far behind millennials. And baby boomers are perhaps the most valuable generation given their wealth. According to a report from marketing research publisher Packaged Facts, boomers possess 54 percent of all U.S. household wealth.
Boomers didn’t grow up with the internet, but it’s a common misconception to assume they’re not tech savvy. Overlooking this generation with digital marketing is a somewhat common mistake that exemplifies stereotypes in generational marketing. According to marketing data and technology company V12, boomers are comfortable shopping online and 85 percent research products online. In terms of social media, they stick to traditional platforms, with Facebook leading the pack.
Generation X (1965-1976)
Often forgotten in favor of boomers and millennials due to size, Generation Xers make up 25 percent of the U.S. population but have 31 percent of its total income dollars, according to V12. What’s most notable about this generation is their brand loyalty.
Gen Xers have the highest brand loyalty among all generations, based on a study by eMarketer. Their extreme brand loyalty beats out boomers and millennials, and most Gen Xers are less interested in trying new brands than younger consumers, according to marketing publication Retail Dive. More than 40 percent of Gen Xers stick to brands they like. In terms of technology, this generation is comfortable in digital channels, with email being the most important channel. Facebook and Twitter are the most notable social networks.
Millennials or Generation Y (1977-1995)
Millennials are digital natives. They consume a great deal of online content and are content producers themselves. A wide range of social media networks, digital video and mobile are all relevant for millennials.
This generation is swayed more by influencers than other generations, opening up opportunities for brands to locate niche platforms and communities that cater to certain audience segments. Another important attribute of millennials is their value for advocacy and referrals. According to technology company Medallia Institute, three out of four millennials perform extensive research before deciding on a purchase, and 50 percent say that online reviews were a major factor for a recent purchase.
Generation Z (1996-early 2000s)
Generation Zers were brought up with smartphones. As you can imagine, they’re incredibly tech-savvy. According to a study from customer management firm Epsilon, Gen Zers are two times more likely to use online-only stores than any other generation. They thrive on self-serve options where they retain control.
Gen Zers prefer Snapchat and Instagram for social networks. When it comes to media, they “have all but abandoned traditional television viewing, opting to watch shows, movies and other digital content on their phones, tablets and laptops,” according to CNBC. “This shift has led content producers to go where Gen Z lives—YouTube.” They spend more than three hours a day watching videos online.
Integrating generational marketing
Marketing to different generations requires thoughtful implementation. You’ll need to avoid stereotyping the tendencies and habits of certain ages. Instead, look at who your customers are (or should be), and then develop campaigns and messaging strategies that are more likely to reach and resonate with your audience. Insights about age should combine with other demographics and data that you have to create buyer personas and to test what works with your customers.
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